Wednesday, May 25, 2016
Review of A Killing Winter by Tom Callaghan (Quercus, 2015)
It would not surprise me in the slightest if A Killing Winter has been banned by the Kyrgyzstan tourist board as it paints a dismal picture of the country – high-levels of state corruption, strong criminal gangs and a crime-ridden society, crippling poverty, wide scale drug and alcohol abuse, and terrible, freezing weather. From a crime fiction perspective, it’s certainly an interesting setting, however, especially with a protagonist who believes in law, order and justice, and utilising intimidation and violence to achieve those ends. Inspector Akyl Borubaev of Bishkek Murder Squad is a complex character with a moral compass pointing in roughly the right direction, though he turns a blind eye to the worst excesses of his colleagues and to the criminal elements of his family. Recently widowed, his sense of self-preservation is also a little skewed. It needs to be to solve a series of brutal murders – this is not a book for the squeamish or faint-hearted – and take on the killer. Right from the start Callaghan employs vivid violence and then counterpoints it with pathos in a series of quickly moving switchbacks to create an engaging police procedural thriller. The plotting is nicely done, with the investigation constantly shifting gears and direction as Borubaev chases shadows and motive, leading to a nice denouement. Beyond some sentences designed to shock rather than simply tell the story, my main issue was I couldn’t work out why Borubaev was alive at the end of the book; it made no real sense when witnesses and others were being killed not to also dispose of him. Otherwise this was an evocative, pacey tale and the start of what I think should be an interesting series featuring Borubaev.